10 Ways to Lower Your Handicap Fast. No Swing Changes Needed!


Golf is a hugely frustrating game at times and it can often seem like you’ll never get that handicap down.

And when you’ve also got a family and a busy job it can be difficult to find a huge amount of practice time to make those key swing changes that you’re told are vital if you want to improve.

But there are ways you can lower your handicap and do it quickly if you stay disciplined.

So to help we’ve put together 10 top tips on the fastest ways we’ve found you can get that handicap down using the exact same swing you’ve got just now.

Create a Game Plan and Stick to it!

Golf is hard but it’s not rocket science.

If you keep trying to hit shots you know you very rarely pull off, or keep playing a tough hole the same way, and usually shoot a scorecard wrecking number as a result why do you expect your handicap to come down?

“Don’t take this the wrong way …. the reason people don’t shoot lower scores, to be blunt, is that most people don’t know HOW to play. Not how to swing or how to hit the ball farther; how to play the game”

Ray Floyd, 4-time Major winner & author of ‘The Elements of Scoring: A Master’s Guide to the Art of Scoring Your Best When You’re Not Playing Your Best’

Amateur golfers are notorious for making poor choices on a golf course which have absolutely nothing to do with their golf swing.

No professional golfer plays a hole without a clear strategy and when they do it goes as badly wrong as it does for the amateurs.

The key to improving your handicap fast is to cut out the ‘major mistakes’ in your game which include:

  • Drives which go out of bounds, into hazards or major trouble
  • Missing the green on par 3’s
  • Chip and sand shots from within 50 yards that miss the green
  • Taking 3 putts.

What your game plan is will vary from course to course and maybe even hole to hole but the most important thing is to have one.

If it’s a shorter course with narrow fairways maybe the plan is to leave the driver in the bag and focus on keeping the ball on the fairway.

And having a plan becomes especially important on the toughest holes on the course.

If there’s out of bounds or a hazard all the way along the left hand side of the fairway and you often draw or hook the ball tee up on the left hand side of the tee box and aim for a target away from the trouble to give yourself the most margin for error.

And if that means hitting your favourite 5-hybrid or 5-iron just to keep the ball in play hit that shot. You’re better with that than the driver which always goes out of bounds.

Whatever your plan is just make sure you have one and stick to it!

Develop a Consistent Pre-Shot Routine

Getting rid of the memory of that double, triple or even quadruple bogey on the last hole can be tough thing for any golfer.

But one thing is clear.

The better players get over their bad shots must quicker than the others to ‘stop the bleeding’ as the pros put it and get their score back on track.

And one of the key methods good players do to achieve this is to develop a consistent pre-shot routine.

By doing this better golfers not only block out the last shot but it also helps them focus on the next one and with a clear vision of what they’re trying to do.

Sir Nick Faldo, 6-time Major Champion, advocates hitting an imaginary ball at full speed as part of your pre-shot routine.

It’s something they have complete control over and know will give them the best chance of making the next shot a good one.

Take a look at the pros the next time you’re watching them on TV or live.

If you focus on one player you’ll notice they do the same thing before each shot over and over.

Pre-shot routines become even more important when the pressure is on and if you’ve got one you trust the likelihood is that you will have a better chance of hitting the shot you want.

6 time Major Champion, Sir Nick Faldo, is a big believer in having a clear defined pre-shot routine which involves hitting an imaginary ball at full speed.

This he says gives you an excellent chance of hitting a good shot because as he puts it “….the mind does not know the difference between a rehearsal and the real thing.”

Focus on 2 putting from 11ft to 30ft

If you are desperate to get your handicap down fast one sure fire thing to look at is the number of times you are taking 3 putts on the greens.

The average golfer with a handicap of 15+ will 3-putt between 3-4 times per round.

And although you may think that’s because they’re not as good as holing from under 10ft compared to much better players the real reason is that the average player leaves their first putt too far away.

According to Shotscope the average 20 handicap golfer leaves their first putt almost 9ft away from the hole on average.

The pros one putt from 9ft less than half of the time so the average player is clearly going to miss most of those 2nd putts from that distance.

Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011 says that the best practice putting distance for amateurs is between 11ft and 30ft.

This is for 2 key reasons:

  1. The average golfers’ first putt takes place from between 11-30 feet on more than 9 out of the 18 greens per round.
  2. From the 11-30 feet distance amateur players are 7-times more likely to three-putt than a PGA Tour Player. On putts of more than 30ft however, the difference between average players and tour pros is much less.

And remember speed is the all-important factor on those longer putts where you are aiming to stop yourself 3-putting.

It’s not easy but the rewards are high.

A 25 handicapper would shave at least 4 shots off every round by eliminating three-putts.

Play Within Your Comfort Zone

For the average golfer most of the scorecard wrecking shots they play come from trying to hit shots out of their comfort zone.

From 200 yards out over water they envisage the perfect shot soaring into the air, landing pin high and the subsequent conversation at the 19th discussing how good it was.

There’s only one problem.

They’ve never carried the ball 200 yards over water before or indeed practiced the shot on the range.

But today is going to be the day of course!

Sadly 99 times out of a 100 it’s not and a very damaging double or triple bogey or worse ensues.

1% odds are not good ones in any walk of life never mind golf and it’s vitally important therefore that golfers wanting to get their handicap down fast start improving their odds.

And much of that comes from playing within their comfort zone and relaxing over shots they know they can play rather straining every muscle to produce the perfect shot.

Pulling off fantastic shots feels great but the chances of pulling them off regularly are tiny.

A much better idea is to relax and swing easy playing comfortable shots you know you can hit more consistently.

Stop playing shots you’ve never practised or only achieve once out of every 100 times.

Play instead to your strengths – everyone has at least one club in their bag which they pick up to play with much greater confidence than the others – and use that shot or shots as often as possible

Once you’ve identified and acknowledged what your strengths are you have a ‘method’ to build a better score on and play within your comfort zone.

“It’s not how, it’s how many”

Seve Ballesteros, 2-times Masters and 3-times British Open Champion

Now there will be some of you reading this saying, that doesn’t sound like much fun.

It’s boring just playing shots I know I can play and if I never try for that ‘great’ shot I’ll definitely never play it.

Well, I for one know it’s much more fun talking about a good score in the clubhouse having played within my comfort zone than ignoring my limitations and wrecking my card as a result!

‘Trying stuff’ is what practice is for.

There are at least 2-3 strokes just waiting to come off your score because you are currently making mistakes by being too aggressive on the course and straying outside your comfort zone.

Track your Stats to Get to Know your Own Game

At the 19th hole of golf courses around the world the same conversation consistently gets played out.

And that is amateur players discussing the details of their rounds and not being able to understand how they played so badly.

Or blaming this club or the other without anything other than a ‘feeling’ it was responsible for them playing badly.

Now I know golfers dissecting each shot they played after their round with their playing partners is part of the fun for many players but the serious point is the average golfer often ignores something that they need to do very little to potentially get a massive gain from.

According the National Golfing Foundation the average score for men golfers is 95.7. For women the average score is 107.

If we make a rough guess that the average golfer plays more than over 20 rounds a year, that’s more than 2,000 golf shots that they can track.

And that is a pretty decent data sample size to help any golfer build up a picture of their strengths and weaknesses and where they should direct whatever practice time they have available to improve.

Knowing your own game is vitally important if you want to get your handicap down and the beauty of it is it’s not difficult to find out if you make even a small effort.

There is a load of technology out there now, including many free golfing apps, which will let you easily track high level stats and give you insight into how far you hit the ball.

After all there’s little point in knowing there are 136 yards to the hole if you do not have a precise idea which club you most consistently hit that distance.

A rough subjective recollection of where you think went wrong during the last round isn’t going to reduce your handicap in a hurry.

[Editor’s note – tracking your game stats is important but it’s clearly critical also you track the right ones. Golf’s traditional stats have a lot of weaknesses so we’ve put together a list of the 10 best golf stats you should be keeping track of. Check it out here.]

Focus on Your Fitness

Columbia Business School Professor and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics adopted by the PGA Tour, Professor Mark Broadie, has analysed millions of golf shots.

And presenting his analysis in his fantastic book ‘Every Shot Counts’ found that an extra 20 yards of driving distance is worth nearly 3 strokes to the typical 115-scoring golfer, 2.3 strokes to the 100-scoring player, 1.6 strokes to 90-scorers, 1.3 strokes to 80 scores and 0.8 strokes to the pros.

So in summary extra driving distance has an impact on every level of player and the most impact on the highest scoring golfers.

And where is ‘extra’ driving distance coming from these days?

Well the most recent ‘Distance Insights Report’ produced by the PGA and R&A found that player fitness to be the third-most important contributor to increased hitting distance on the golf course behind club and ball technology.

You only need to look at Bryson Dechambeau as evidence of how much players are now turning to the gym to generate faster club head speed to let them hit the ball further.

Club makers and designers say today that they have pretty much exhausted the science when it comes to driver design and golf’s ruling bodies have already placed limits on the technology through the coefficient of restitution or COR of the clubhead since the late 1990s.

The current COR basically restricts how much a driver is allowed to translate club head speed (i.e. the speed at which player swing the club) into ball speed.

This so-called ‘smash factor’ – ball speed divided by club head speed – has been limited to 1.5 for the past 20 years or so.

So if you are looking for a way to hit the ball further to take advantage of the scoring gains on offer as outlined by Professor Broadie one way is to focus on improving your strength and fitness.

And if that doesn’t appeal even a focus on your flexibility and ‘warm ups’ each time before you play and practice can help to deliver improved performance.

And an efficient warm-up routine is vital if you want to play well and does not even require a visit to the range if you are short of time or don’t have access to a range before you play.

‘Dynamic’ stretches are particularly good when it comes to warming up and any warm-up routine focusing on the main muscles you are about to use each time you practice or play – hips, glutes and neck / upper spine particularly – will improve performance.

The pros are heading to the gym more and more for a reason and it’s something you can also do to help improve your scores.

Never Take Your Eyes Off the Target

The next time you play a golf shot on the golf course ask yourself afterwards – can I remember what I was aiming at?

This may sound like a silly question but I’m certain you’ll be surprised how often you realise weren’t really focused on anything specific enough when you hit your shot.

It can’t be overemphasised how much good players focus in on their target when they’re playing a shot and why it’s another thing you can do to quickly improve your game and get that handicap down.

“Where the head goes the body follows.”

And I don’t mean just focusing on a tree in the distance when you hit your next drive or the hole itself when you hit your next short putt.

Make your target something that’s small enough to induce real focus when you’re playing.

Instead of aiming for a tree, aim for a particular branch on that tree.

Rather than aiming for the right hand side of the fairway pick an exact spot on the fairway where you ideally want the ball to land.

Don’t just aim for the hole when you have a short putt but instead see if there’s a mark or blade of grass inside the cup that you can focus on.

And the simple reason for doing this?

The smaller target you choose the more likely you will focus properly on your shot and block out unwanted distractions and negative thoughts.

And you’ll be surprised also how much more often your ball goes towards that small target.

Remember 6-time major champion Nick Faldo’s quote – “….the mind does not know the difference between a rehearsal and the real thing”.

Or to put it another way – “where the head goes the body follows.”

That’s the reason when you tell yourself ‘don’t hit it out of bounds’ or ‘don’t hit it in the water’ you often do just that.

Because the body reacts to what the mind thinks. You never say to yourself when you get into the car – “Don’t drive into that stop sign.”

So why you do you tell yourself not to do negative things in golf?

There’s a massive difference between saying to yourself ‘hit it to that point on the left of the fairway’ vs. ‘don’t hit it out of bounds on the right’.

And by really focusing in on small targets you’ll give yourself a much better chance of hitting shots where you want to much more often.

Take Advantage of Golf Technology

Golf technology has exploded over the last 30 years. Woods are no longer made of wood, hybrid irons have replaced long irons, the golf ball goes further and straighter than ever before and even ‘golf accessories’ such as rangefinders have become commonplace.

And the great news is the vast majority of these technical advances have made the game a bit easier for the average golfer.

So if you really want to get your handicap down quickly why wouldn’t you want to ensure you’re taking advantage of all the golf technology you can?

Because it works.

The USGA and R&A’s Driving Distance Report records that since 1996 the average male golfer is hitting their driver 11 yards further.

For golfers with handicaps over 21, the increase has been measured at 22 yards. And the main reason for this is better drivers and golf balls.

Given the clear link that report also highlights between driving distance and handicap it would seem silly not to look into the potential of getting more distance with a more advanced driver.

The introduction of hybrid irons, specifically designed to be much wider and thicker than those notoriously difficult long irons, is another advancement which has produced a club which is easier to hit and can produce better results for more golfer’s swings.

A hyrbid has the distance capabilities of an iron, but the ease of flight and the dyamics of the way a wood plays … so, there’s a combination of a lot of different things which is making them easier to hit.

Former World Club-Maker of the Year Derek Murray of Fore Golf

The availability of golf club fitting meanwhile has brought the ability for amateurs to get clubs built specially around their own unique golf swing, something which in years gone by was the sole preserve of the professionals.

And that’s not to mention laser and GPS rangefinders, some of which can not only give you precise distances to the flag but also automatically track your stats for you and provide you with meaningful analysis straight after your round.

With all golf technology there is always the ryder that it costs money and sometimes alot of it.

However if you’re serious about improving quickly it’s an option that needs to be looked at and indeed there are also likely to be plenty of second-hand options you could potentially upgrade to.

Go to School As Often As Possible

The average amateur player typically passes up a significant amount of opportunities to learn something that will help their own game every single round.

Think about it.

How much do you really study what your playing partners are doing during a round or indeed watch closely and bank in your memory what just happened to your own ball?

However much you think you say you do this there is no question better players do it more.

When your putt just goes past the hole and runs 4-5ft by, if you can stop your irritation at missing the putt a moment, the path it has taken as it passes the hole the ball has just given you the line for your return putt.

And if you’re playing with at least 2 other average golfers during your round that’s another 180 shots or so you can learn a whole host of things about the golf course you are currently playing on.

For example how the wind is affecting your partner’s ball flight or how hard or soft the green is when their ball landed or how their putt broke as it got close to the hole.

A whole host of pieces of useful information are available to you every time you play with others or even by yourself.

The important bit is just that you remember to pay attention to all the free lessons that are on offer.

Accept that Bad Things Are Going to Happen

It’s easy to forget when you watch golf on TV that the pros hit bad shots too.

Every time you watch they seem to be either sending a 3-iron from 230 yards to within 3ft of the hole or knocking in yet another 40 footer from across the green for a birdie.

Pros play bad shots too!

However the reality is often quite different. It’s just that the TV editors don’t want you to see it because they don’t think it makes good TV.

Now I’m not for a minute suggesting the pros are not experts but what is vital for amateur golfers to remember is that the pros are dealing with shots which didn’t go where they wanted much more frequently than you think.

Don’t believe me. Here’s a look below at the average stats on the PGA Tour.

PGA Tour AverageWorst PGA Tour Average
Scoring70.9873.75
Fairways hit62.6%48.5%
Greens in regulation66.6%60.1%
Scrambling59.7%51.2%
Sand saves50.8%37%
Putts per round2930.2

So the best driver on the PGA Tour is missing the fairway off the tee more than 1/3 of the time. The best iron player is missing the green once out of every 3 attempts.

The worst Tour pro around the greens is not getting up and down to save their par almost half of the time while the worst bunker player is not managing to save par out the sand almost 2 out of 3 times.

That’s a lot of mistakes the pros are making however the average score on Tour is still under 71 strokes per round.

That simply shows professional players also make a lot of mistakes on the golf course but are clearly outstanding in their ability to not only get over those mistakes but recover from them and make sure they don’t prove too costly.

So the next time you find the wheels coming off as you fail to stop cursing yourself for the stroke you played 4 holes previously why not try remembering the pros play alot of bad shots too.

Hitting bad shots is part of the game for every player at all levels of the game, even the greats.

Nobody is saying you can’t take a minute to vent your frustration (under your breath of course!). By all means go ahead.

Just don’t take too long doing it because there’s another shot to play very shortly which requires your full attention and may well recover all the damage done by the previous one!

Final Thought

In the modern world speed is the most important thing and golf is no exception. People want results quickly in everything.

The tips above can undoubtedly lead to lowering your handicap and the results will be fast if you are disciplined.

The bad news is they may only take you so far. Practice is, of course, going to be needed to make sure you keep improving over a longer period of time.

And indeed swing changes may be needed if you really want to get that handicap down even lower.

But if you try some or all of the above tips you should be able to knock off some numbers of that handicap.

And the great news is most of them are free!

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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